A new threat is emerging

Pakistan and Afghanistan must counter the influence of IS before it becomes a serious problem

A new threat is emerging
The emergence of Islamic State (IS) globally and the recent announcement of its formal organization for Afghanistan and Pakistan has renewed the international community’s security concerns about the Af-Pak region, security analysts say.

Rahimullah Yousafzai, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar, believes that the presence of armed non-state actors in its territory always poses an enormous threat to a country’s national security, regardless of who they are. “The IS is relatively new to this region and they are yet to accept responsibility for any terrorist attack,” he said, “therefore the exact level of potential threat which it poses to the Af-Pak region will be difficult to gauge.” But he said the security establishment should be on the watch because most militant commanders who have joined the IS are either Afghan Taliban or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan old guards who have already demonstrated their capacity and ability to strike at will.

Aziz Ahmadzai, a senior Afghan defence analyst, says the IS does not have any visible presence in Afghanistan at the moment, but it provides an excellent platform to the old disgruntled Afghan Taliban leaders who can easily replace the white flag with the black one. According to Ahmadzai, insecurity and political instability coupled with lack of coordination and collaboration between Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regional countries could lead to the rise of IS in the region. “But Taliban can’t afford the emergence of IS,” he said, “because that will challenge the leadership of Mullah Omer as their emir.” Abdul Raif Khadim, an afghan militant linked to IS who was killed in a drone attack on February 9, was attacked by the Afghan Taliban before he was targeted by the security agencies, he said.
Disgruntled Taliban leaders can easily replace the white flag with the black one

“The IS has little support in Afghanistan, except some followers in Helmand, Kunar and Farah provinces, but any group with guns and money can create a space for itself in this region, and that is what the IS is trying to do,” said Senator Arifullah Pashtoon, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate of Afghanistan. He said the Afghan government did not consider IS a major threat to its national security, but the group had the potential to rise on the ashes of the unity government which he said had failed to deliver on its promises because of embedded structural problems.

“The ideological grounds are quite fertile for IS in both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar based political analyst. He believes the narrative of the IS is the clearest of all the Islamist militant groups, based on a certain Islamic tradition according to which Muslims will eventually dominate the entire world. “They have a working model in place in Iraq and Syria that provides a platform to adventurous youth dejected with the existing militant groups,” he said. Even mainstream banned groups could join the IS, he added, because of the large funds at its disposal.

Pakistani intelligence officials say that emergence of IS has already set the alarm bells ringing. A senior official in Islamabad said the IS was head hunting, starting with disgruntled elements in the TTP and other ultra-Salafi militant organizations. He did not rule out a future alliance between the cash-starved TTP and the IS. The TTP is disappointed with the Afghan Taliban, he said, because they withdrew their support right when the group was fighting a battle for survival against the Pakistan Army. But despite his differences with the TTP and the Afghan Taliban, militant commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah Kakar decline to work with the IS. The intelligence official said the Pakistani military and public opinion would be a formidable challenge for the IS.

Defense analyst Brigadier (r) Nazir believes the presence of IS in the Af-Pak region is only symbolic, limited only to the social media and wall chalking. The recent consensus against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan will make it hard for the IS to sustain, he believes.

But Muhamamd Amir Rana, director of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, disagrees. Since the IS announcement of an organizational structure for Pakistan and Afghanistan, which it calls the “Khorasan province”, the group has become a reality to reckon with, he says. “This is a significant development in many ways,” says Rana, and Pakistan’s persistent denial of the presence of IS and its failure to foresee and counter its impact on the country’s militant landscape will compound an already complex problem.

The writer is an Islamabad-based researcher working on militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan